In these surreal days when ‘The Donald’ is sitting on the throne in the USA and poor Theresa is melting to a gooey, formless mess before our very eyes (with Andrea Leadsom ready to step into her Russell and Bromley kitten heels at any moment), it’s hard to think of a politician without raising an eyebrow in disbelief so high that my hairline disappears halfway down the back of my head.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard a story about Macron on the radio just now that made me laugh with joy. Not derision.
That’s why I’d like to share it with you.
When he was at school and he didn’t get the part in the play that he’d auditioned for, (no. He didn’t make a play for the drama teacher. Not then),he went off (and this shouldn’t come as a surprise when you think about it) and (yes, you know what’s coming) started his own drama group (see) so that he could perform the part that way.
So it might not seem much on the surface of it. I accept that. But a man who doesn’t see obstacles only solutions, well that’s something to celebrate. But even better is the fact that the solutions, when made, seem so obvious. So easy. But no one else came up with them. They still plugged away, trying to jump through the hoops, little thinking that it might be time for some new hoops.
And that’s what he’s done with En Marche.
Macron. At last. A politician to inspire. Achieving the seemingly impossible and making it seem oh so simple.
How long does it take to write a historical novel?
I tell myself it’s a slow, meandering process, historical novel writing. A coffee here, research, a little bit of novel reading there (for inspiration purposes), research, a bit of wandering round the house (self-imposed isolation is a must), research, some food(you’ve got to have a break), research, some more food, research, perhaps a spot of Netflix, and, if there’s time, more research.
And that’s on a good day.
So where’s the writing? Where, indeed.
I have now written a novel. A historical novel. And how I ever got round to finishing it is still a mystery when I take a look at my working methods.
I’m not exactly prolific. One novel. Second started. Dread to tell you how long I’ve taken.
I read that Ian Rankin (yes, I know he’s not a historical novelist) can take as little as 27 days to get a first draft down. The bitter failed writer in me sneers when I read that he has a house he can disappear in, cut himself off from all distractions, and just get on with it. Oh, if we all had our own hideaway in the middle of nowhere we’d all be able to do that.
As I can’t even get to the end of a paragraph (and sometimes it’s far less than that) without rewarding myself with a coffee, another, better part of myself, knows that I’m delusional. Fooling myself.
Especially when I’ve committed myself to self-imposed purda and stopped seeing people just so that I too am distraction-free.
The coffees just keep on coming but the word count crawls along as slowly as ever.
I hate to tell you that getting on with it is not that easy.
I read somewhere that many artists and writers like to work with a memento mori to give themselves a kick up the backside – a reminder that life is short and there’s no time to waste. And so, not to be left out, I considered tracking down a skull for myself in the hope that evidence of my mortality might serve to get me working a little faster. Unsurprisingly the hunt for a skull took up many useful writing hours.
Then there are the inspirational articles, the how-to books, the courses, following writers on twitter (that took me a while to work out I can tell you). I’ve even adopted the habits of highly successful authors. Many at the same time. And guess what? Yes. I’ve passed many a happy hour achieving nothing in particular.
And so I just have to face it – I have no choice but to commit words to the page. One after the other.
That’s going to be my next move. Try writing. Build it up. Word by word. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. Until I’ve got a chapter. Then another one. Who knows, as long as I don’t get distracted I might even end up with a book.
A little pick me up session for those wanting to speak French in or around the Bristol area
You’ve contemplated brushing up your rusty French. Again. But you’ve changed your mind at the last minute. You missed out on the September start. Then January came. And went. Perhaps you could try again after Easter. You know you want to do it. So what’s stopping you? Fear of failure? Dry lessons in cold classrooms? Turning up on your own? Committing to a series of lessons only to find out you don’t enjoy them?
Well, the highly experienced teachers at Oh la la French might have exactly what you’ve been looking for. Four extremely accomplished professionals, Sylvia Aldous, Marie-Christine Page, Malorie Newbold and Isabella Morgan have put their creative heads together to offer people who want to speak French a more immersive experience than the average French lesson. Made up of interactive activities, games, treasure hunts, singing and more, they’ve come up with a language package that is useful, engaging, active and fun.
An exciting introductory 90 minute session, scheduled for Monday March 13th at 10.30am, will give you a lipsmackingly juicy taste of how you’ll be learning when you sign up for their five week course. You’ll be working in small groups, provided with language support, pronunciation advice, supported through every section of the morning so that by the end of the session you’ll have made new friends and your confidence will be on the ceiling. Which is very high. Which brings me to the venue. Which makes me realise that the Oh la la teachers truly have thought of everything.
Kings Weston House is a special venue and its lovely paintings and grand rooms will be integral to your language learning experience. No looking out through metal framed windows in grey classrooms for you. Rather the whole process is to be stimulating, an assault on the senses to excite the mind so that you are receptive to learning. That’s why the Oh la la team have chosen such beautiful surroundings for their new language learning venture. The very impressive Kings Weston House, designed by Vanbrugh, with exquisite interiors to delight and inspire enthusiastic language learners offers a unique language learning experience that will provide those fortunate enough to secure a place (numbers are limited to 30) bragging potential for years to come.
This event promises to be very special. The venue is a real gem as are the teachers. And even on the rainiest of days it would be worth getting over to Kings Weston House to find that crock of French gold at the end of the rainbow…and you could even stay on for lunch.
the taster session is on Monday 13th March, 10.30 – 12, at Kings Weston House, Kings Weston Ln, Bristol BS11 0UR
If you’re not having a dry January (or perhaps you were but have fallen off the wagon), you might want to cheer yourselves up by with slow ride on a mule, a Moscow Mule.
Over the past few years I have fallen for cocktails in the most head-spinningly giddy of ways. An as yet never ending source of amusement to me, they have injected a sense of fun and often lurid colour into my otherwise drab little world.
That’s why, on this most damp and gloomy of Tuesdays, I would like to share a simple-to-make Moscow Mule with you to kick back at those January blues.
Our latest Food for Friends evening was January 7th and the cuisine was Russian. It turns out that January 7th is Christmas Day in Russia. (Who knew? Obviously not me. ) So that meant that we were able to prolong the Christmas revelry, which we did, kicking the night off with a Moscow Mule.
We then had some pagach, a bread served with honey then chopped garlic. It’s traditionally the first thing eaten after the fast on Christmas Eve. The honey represents the sweetness of life, while the garlic represents its bitterness.
A type of porridge, called sochivo or kutya, consisting of grains, poppy seeds and (again) honey (where the grains represent hope, the poppy seeds peace and the honey sweetness again) is then usually brought out. However, we forewent that pleasure and went for borscht instead.
Borscht, a beetroot soup served with soured cream and a sprig of dill, was worth serving for the colour alone.
We had this with vodka which went surprisingly well.
Then came the main course. Goose with soured cream sauce is popular on Christmas Day in Russia but the thought of cooking a big bird so soon after the turkey of a few weeks ago did not appeal. Instead we had a Russian stroganoff, beetroot, cabbage pie and spatzle.
The cabbage pie was a revelation, tasting as it did like a frittata. We then had to stop for a break, a Russian cocktail break, this time a White Russian.
Feeling a little full we listened to some rousing Russian music to give us strength for the dessert.
And then it came.
I was expecting some kozulya, biscuits in the shape of reindeer, goats or sheep, as these are very popular at Christmas time in Russia. But no, instead we were presented with not one, not two, but three Russian sweet treats – a honey cake, another honey cake and a fruity little number accompanied with a sweet syrupy juice (to put down the layers of fat no doubt needed to cope with the extremes of those Siberian winters).
We finished the evening with a warming vodka shot before smashing our glasses in the fireplace and making our way home…or is that a national stereotype for another country?
Here are a few of my favourite things … to moan about!
First off, new phrases. One moment no one’s saying them (never mind understanding what they mean), the next they’re being used by virtually everyone. All of the time. Sounds like a good thing? Well let’s see.
Culprit number 1 : ‘Back in the day’
Seems to refer to some non-specific period in the speaker’s past when everything was possibly better. Or possibly not. Though, grudgingly, could be said to be useful for those of us who have trouble remembering dates…
Culprit number 2 : ‘Happy days’
(uncannily similar to culprit number 1)
What’s wrong with that?
When I first heard this I confess to having found it really quite charming. Full of joyful enthusiasm. Sort of catchy. So ‘sort of catchy’ in fact that I found it escaping from my mouth all too readily. Soon sounded rather simple.
Culprit number 3 : ‘Mac and Cheese’
Odd to find it here you may think, but think again. When I first heard this I thought it had to be something far more mysterious, more exotic, than ‘macaroni cheese’. Even now I wonder whether I’ve got this one completely wrong. But I don’t think so. It is ‘macaroni cheese’. I’ve googled it (!). That dish that we had as kids when we’d run out of everything else. Suddenly it’s everyone’s favourite, and even my own kids bandy its name around as if they loved it ‘back in the day’. But they must have been chowing down on it at some other family’s table because they certainly didn’t have it at mine. I don’t know why but it sounds as if it belongs to the same family of words such as ‘dude. Or ‘bro’. (Which makes me think of ‘bromance’. And ‘Brovember’. And…Stop me. Stop me now.)
Culprit number 4 : ‘enjoy’
Now this is an old one. The first time it irritated me was back in the late 1980’s. Now I’ve got nothing against the sentiment. Please, do enjoy yourself. But just ‘enjoy’? It used to be so cool it made me want to stick my fingers down my throat. But I’ve grown up now. And calmed down. And whereas I can forgive, I can never forget.
Although I’m trying to distance myself from the times that I’ve succumbed to ‘enjoy’s easy charms myself. But it never did make me sound cool. More a people-pleasing, crowd-following twerp with no resolve. Damn.
Culprit number 5 : ‘fess up
So, time to ‘fess up myself. I cringe as I admit that I’ve used this one. More than once. How did it’s annoyingly catchy sound get so hardwired into my brain that I found myself reproducing it? Against my better judgement?
(For those of you who may still be ‘fess up’ virgins it’s simply a contraction of ‘confess’ + ‘own up’ = ”fess up’. Sorry to have corrupted you.)
Culprit number 6:
and this is the one, my nec plus ultra (at the moment, at any rate) of irritating phrases. Wait for it –
‘First World problems’.
Though on first hearing it this one bowled me over.
Not least because I’ve come up with my fair share of moans deserving of such an epithet (is that even the right word? Please feel free to help me out here.)
‘I’ve not managed to get fresh clams for tonight’s spaghetti alle vongole.’‘I missed the last episode of War and Peace.’ Sadly both mine. I was nearly reduced to tears by one of them.
So, the reason I hate this phrase is that I’ve started to use it after nearly most things I say. And so have many of my First World chums. Instead of making us reflect on more serious problems it’s just served to give us a chummy, back-slapping out.
When I used it after ‘Waitrose has run out of hazelnut croissants!’ I realised I had a problem.
Not everyone made it to this meeting and so we used it as an excuse (opportunity?) to focus on the just start of the second part of ‘A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs’.
the narrator’s focus on the blue of the blind at the window of the train carriage. Significance – to underline the importance of what we see ( in this case the colour) as opposed to what we know we see ( it is a blind).
the importance of light and its impact on what we see. As seen in the changing impressions of the same scene as observed through the train window as the train follows its winding track. Same scene, different perspective. Affected by time, light, distance.
the relevance of these visual experiences become clear when the narrator describes what he sees through his hotel window. eg he describes the sea as a mountain, the crests of its waves as snow.
Proust here makes the distinction between intelligence and intuition/ sensory response. He reveals to us his developing aesthetic – that to touch the truth, create art, he needs to respond to the impression, to be faithful to what he sees, rather than to allow what he knows to come between its expression. (cf. voluntary and involuntary memory)
To place this in a historical context, these ideas are clearly connected to those of the Impressionists.
We are told that the artist Elstir, even before he is introduced, will have a significant influence on the narrator’s artistic evolution.
It is also aesthetically important that Baudelaire is mentioned here. Baudelaire’s use of synaesthesia within some of his poems has a definite correlation to Proust’s use of metonymy here. To taste the smell of a rose is akin to seeing the mountain in the sea.
further points for discussion
humour. Now we’ve spotted it we see it everywhere. Perhaps the narrator’s grandiose claims and anguished exclamations are intended to express genuine pathos, but we can’t help but hear a self-conscious, self-mocking bathos – the voice of a wiser, more knowing older self who is prepared to elicit humour out of his more naive younger self, even in his most despairing of moments. Waiting at the train station; seeing the milk girl; drinking the alcohol.
By concentrating on such a small section we managed to talk about the writing in detail. It really is a joy to be able to read ‘A la Recherche’ in this way and to see how much we’ve still got left to read makes my heart soar as it means we’ve got so much more to explore.
NEXT MEETING : Friday 5th February
TARGET: To finish reading the 2nd part of ‘A l’Ombre des Jeunes Filles…’ or, at least, try to.
I’ve clearly not been writing any posts in a while and did think that I would walk away from this website/blog all together.
Because I was becoming obsessed with stats, hits and search engines, that’s why, desperate to think of the latest click-bait to push those numbers up.
Because I found I was more intent on recording life on my phone than actually living it (that’s a BIG one). I dislike Facebook but it crossed my mind that what I was doing here had many of its negatives. And that had never been my intention.
Because I wasn’t concentrating on anything else in my life, just writing randomly and uploading it aimlessly. The result, one huge, word soup, fairly sludge-like in consistency.
BUT because I have stopped recording certain things that I find important and useful, I’ve learnt that when a moment has passed (the details of which I think I will never forget), I have trouble calling to mind even the most basic of information about it. The feeling always remains, of course. I can tell you with gushing enthusiasm, for example, my favourite book, or film. But I can’t always tell you why. And ask me what it’s about and I’m completely scuppered.
And so, for that admittedly selfish reason, I intend to continue writing up what I want to remember just in case I ever want to get my hands on recipes for a dinner party or just rediscover what’s so great about ‘A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs’. I know this is not for everyone but as I get older I realise that it’s not about trying to please others but finding things that make me feel alive. The same things might not do it for you, and that’s fine, but this year on Frock Friday I will offer what does it for me and if you want to share it please help yourselves. And I’m going to start with a little bit of Proust.
Back in August I bravely embraced my child, fighting back my selfish tears. He’d travelled the world. He’d gone to university. But I knew that this time it was different. His adult life was about to start and he wouldn’t be looking back. He was leaving the nest for the final time and my heart was breaking.
Fly my boy, fly! May your life be full of joy. Oh , my special one! Words cannot express the depth of my love for you nor my anguish at saying this one goodbye.
As I drove home from the train station I had to pull over, my eyes temporarily blinded by the tears that they could no longer contain. And I let them fall, full and heavy over my cheeks, my head awash with images of Tom. My happy, smiling Tom. Tom. The pain and the beauty of the past, brought back so intensely in the moment, took my breath away.
But now, at the start of October, it’s just bitter.
Because he came back. Why?
Nothing’s changed. He’s still my lovely, beautiful joy of a child. But why did he come back?
Now don’t get me wrong, he can always come back. But to come back when he’d never intended to (and I’d been planning to re-decorate his bedroom and turn it into a workroom) hasn’t been good for him. And, perhaps not more to the point but a consideration to bear in mind, it’s not been good for me either (workroom aside). To see him moping around when he should be out embracing life is painful. I understand his frustration at not knowing what he wants to do with his life. I do. I really do.
But I’ve discovered a frustration equally real.
That is, the very real frustration of the parent of a grown-up child living at home. A parent who knows best. Or, at least, thinks she does.
You could say it’s a sign of the times – grown-up children all over the land having to live with their parents because of student debt, lack of jobs, rising property prices.
I know this.
I also know what Tom could do to prevent this. And therein lies the rub because now he’s back in my house it’s oh so difficult not to tell him this. I’m torn between on the one hand letting him find his own way and on the other, sharing with him the wisdom of my very considerable experience.
I endeavour to do the former as I realise the importance of making your own mistakes but when I see him falter (and that’s the problem, that I can see it ), I resort to letting him have ‘my wisdom’, both barrels. But, looking down just one of the barrels of my experience-loaded shotgun Tom can only see the smoke. What’s happening to my little fun boy?
‘It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and that’s what gets results…’
This old Bananarama/Fun Boy Three song has been going round in my head for some days now and it’s only in the writing up of the words that I fully understand why…
It’s clearly time to rethink my approach ( nearly wrote ‘attack’…). I want what’s best for Tom. I want Tom to know this and to understand that I will do all in my power to support and help him.
Maybe I’m not as smart as I like to think I am.( Cue Dean Friedman song.)
Clearly the overt advice isn’t going down well. Think, think, think.
I know, I’ll make him a cake. And not just a Victoria Sponge. Oh no. A raspberry and hazelnut cake with hazelnut liqueur and mascarpone topping.
This goes down well. I may not be as smart as I like to think I am but I’m smart enough. Back in the parenting game And so, fuelled with maternal zeal, I consider my next move.
And then I have it. A calendar. A Christmas Advent Calendar. Genius! Take that Dean Friedman…Back of the net!
While Tom argues with himself about what he’s definitely not going to do with his life as he doesn’t want to sell out, and he wants to make a difference, and he doesn’t want to be a hypocrite, and he’ll think about doing that job he supposes as a stop-gap, and his arm is twitching, and his work experience is boring and he certainly wouldn’t want to be doing that at the age of 40, and he doesn’t see himself as a corporate type or the type who…. I find that I am surprisingly happy just agreeing and cutting out little felt shapes. Whereas before I might have finished his sentence with ‘the type who earns money?’ now I spend hours nodding supportively, making gently sympathetic sounds, all the while cutting out numbers, squares, holly leaves, berries…
In fact, I decide to show my love for all three grown-up children in the same felt-advent-calendar way. Hmm. Foil covered chocolate coins in the pockets? Tom likes this idea. We think as one.
Strangely, Tom has just told me that he is now leaving home to start his life. My Fun Boy is back in the game. But not without his Christmas Advent Calendar .
Where the wisdom-loaded shotgun failed Cake and Christmas prevailed. Up yours Dean Friedman!
The image of those philosophers of yesteryear, Bananarama and The Fun Boy Three, is from the siobhanfaheyrealm.blogspot.com
‘Un livre est le produit d’un autre moi que celui que nous manifestons dans nos habitudes, dans la société, dans nos vices’.
(A book is the product of another self than the one that we show in our habits, in society, in our vices.)
Discuss with reference to ‘Combray’.
It’s been a delight to read and re-read the same piece of writing. And this is particularly the case with Proust as the writing is so very dense.
At this week’s meeting we tackled the difficult question about the idea of the creative self. The quotation that makes up the title is from a work by Proust entitled ‘Contre Sainte-Beuve’, a work in which Proust attacked the notion expounded by Sainte-Beuve that the person who creates should not be distinguished (or distinguishable) from the person as they present themselves in society. Proust clearly disagreed with this, hence his writing of ‘Contre Sainte-Beuve’.
He then went on to challenge Sainte-Beuve’s supposition further in his writing of ‘A la Recherche du Temps Perdu’. And nowhere is there greater evidence of this than in Combray where we are presented with the great composer and musician, Vinteuil, who is seen in society as someone to be pitied.
One specific example : Vinteuil
In his devotional duties as father his attention to his wayward daughter is considered misplaced. Even in a detail as slight as adjusting his daughter’s shawl to prevent her from feeling cold he renders himself ridiculous seeking to protect a daughter who seems to grow in strength on the condition that he diminishes. The assumption is obvious – a seemingly weak and blind father cannot be capable of great artistic achievement. Oh how wrong this is and when we read ‘Un Amour de Swann’ we see Swann’s surprise, and downright denial, when he discovers that the ‘phrase musicale’ that he so loves is by Vinteuil.
-Je connais bien quelqu’un qui s’appelle Vinteuil, dit Swann, en pensant au professeur de piano des deux soeurs de ma grand-mère.
– C’est peut-être lui, s’écria Mme Verdurin.
-Oh! non, répondit Swann en riant. Si vous l’aviez vu deux minutes, vous ne vous poseriez pas la question…mais ce pourrait être un parent …, cela serait assez triste, mais enfin un homme de génie peut être le cousin d’une vieille bête. …
-I know someone called Vinteuil, said Swann, thinking of the piano teacher to my grandmother’s two sisters.
-It’s perhaps him, exclaimed Mme Verdurin.
-Oh!No, Swann replied laughing. You’d only have to see him for 2 minutes to know not to ask that question…but he could be related…, it would be quite sad, but then a man of genius can be the cousin of an old fool…
one general observation
Ironically, Swann, as an artist ‘manqué’, is also presented as a fool in love in ‘Un Amour de Swann’ . This contrasts with the Swann we see in ‘Combray’, where Proust also hints at another Swann, the one interested in art and ideas yet who conceals what he really feels. Personality itself is seen as multi-faceted where the facets are sometimes contradictory and this informs Proust’s notion of the artist.
one real-life example
And who better to provide us with this than Proust himself? Turned down for publication by the very eminent André Gide because he deemed that the Proust that he had met was too lightweight to have written anything of particular merit, it was only later, when he had actually read Proust’s work, that Gide realised the magnitude of the mistake he had made.
Now, I’ve never been to a book group where the start of a novel has been discussed with such enthusiasm nor indeed at such length, nor indeed read and re-read so many times.
And it’s been a joy.
And so, it’s with a mixture of regret – at leaving Combray behind – and excitement – at what’s to come – that I have to say that, at last, it is time to move on…
Next meeting : ‘Un Amour de Swann’ – love and jealousy
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